A microcosm of personalities, flavors and industry that make Viet Nam confusing, inexplicable and wondrous, wander down Alley 18, where Buddhist flags crisscross above your head as you walk past apartments that open their first floor living space to fruit sellers, various dining options, and laundry shops for $3. Rise early and be ready to barter for the freshest fruit of the day and have lunch just step across the street for a local ‘seven cent’ taste from the spring roll (goi cuon) seller: fresh rolls filled with pork, shrimp and pickled vegetables paired with the homemade peanut sauce.
For dinner, venture to the back end of the alley to a yellow apartment on the right through a narrow room, completely exposed to the street. In the back you notice a door leading to the living room where a man and child lounge before a fluorescent TV screen. The women work at the stove positioned on the sidewalk cooking vermicelli with beef, greens and hand rolled pork spring rolls with chili and soy sauce—in Viet Nam the sauces add the distinctive flavor.